sat 22/10/2016

Classical CDs Weekly: Bartók, Ligeti, Jocelyn Pook, Tchaikovsky | Classical music reviews, news & interviews

Classical CDs Weekly: Bartók, Ligeti, Jocelyn Pook, Tchaikovsky

Modern classics for violin and orchestra, and two discs of music to dance to

Engergetic Tchaikovsky from the prolific Neeme JärviSimon van Boxtel

Bartók, Eötvös, Ligeti – Violin Concertos Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin), Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Modern/Peter Eötvös (Naïve)

An embarrassment of riches here - it’s hard to know where to start. The opening of Bartók’s Violin Concerto No 2, soft harp arpeggios underneath a pungent, folk-tinged melody, is gorgeous. With luck it will ensnare the open-minded casual listener before the accessibility becomes fused with this composer’s more cerebral mature style. It’s fabulous, spicy stuff – gritty in places but never losing its ability to sing. Only Bartók could make the second subject’s 12-tone row sound so singable. The slow movement’s variations contain some of this composer’s strangest, loveliest music, and the dancing finale ingeniously recycles the first movement’s themes. Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s performance is gutsy, gritty and astringent. This is one of the great violin concertos, and it’s sadly neglected in the concert hall.

As is Ligeti’s 1990 Violin Concerto. There’s much to intrigue in this wondrous piece, notably the eccentric scoring for a 23-piece chamber ensemble. Ligeti uses natural horns, complete with delicious, untuned harmonics, and has percussionists and wind players double up on lotus flutes and ocarinas. The effect is bonkers, but in an incredibly sophisticated, profoundly musical way; Ligeti’s second-movement chorale is one of the most haunting, affecting things you’ll hear. Dive head first into this concerto and love it – it’s a masterpiece from one of the 20th century’s last musical giants. And it is fearlessly played by Kopatchinskaja, who also gives us Seven, composed by the disc’s conductor Peter Eötvös. An offbeat tribute to the seven astronauts who died on board the Columbia space shuttle in 2003, it’s a brilliantly scored yet elusive work.

Jocelyn Pook: Desh (soundtrack) (Pook Music)

Jocelyn Pook has been writing music for film and theatre since the late 1990s, achieving fame when her music was used to accompany scenes in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. Desh was first performed in 2011 and was revived in 2012, Pook’s pre-recorded soundtrack composed to accompany a solo dance piece by the choreographer Akram Khan. Desh is an exploration of identity, of a child born of Bangladeshi parents in the UK rediscovering his roots. Reading reviews of the work’s staging make one bitterly regret not having seen it live. Pook’s music does succeed on its own terms, though you’re continually reminded of the missing visual element. Field recordings made in Dhaka provide the score’s backbone. Vocal solos melt into extended instrumental numbers, and there’s a wonderful layering of mechanical sounds in Metallic Sonata; thumps and crashes taped in a shipyard underscoring car horns, bicycle bells and train noises. All assembled brilliantly, this is music, not noise.

Honey Bee Story’s minimalist harp riff builds up in true Glassian style. You don’t mind the borrowing – instead you’re quietly impressed that so much can be distilled from a sequence of two chords. Pook’s string-saturated, wailing Ave Maria setting leans dangerously close to schmaltz, but it’s irresistible, made perfect by the quality of the vocals swirling around above the orchestral writing. It all works because Pook avoids writing bland, Eastern-sounding pastiche. Her own voice always shines through. Worth investigating even if you haven’t seen Desh in a theatrical setting.

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